Actuate, Sqribe Tap XML for Enterprise Reporting
A fray erupted between enterprise reporting companies over who first identified XML as an important strategic direction for the tools. But while vendors argue about who has the better approach, the fact that two major companies in the market space are embracing XML could signal a new direction for enterprise reporting.
In mid-December Actuate Software Corp. (www.actuate.com) announced support for EXtensible Markup Language (XML) in its as-yet-unnumbered version of the Actuate Reporting System, due out the second quarter of 1999. But phrases in the company’s public statements, such as "Actuate is solidifying its leadership position at the cutting-edge of Web-based enterprise reporting," raised hackles at Sqribe Technologies (www.sqribe.com), which already worked XML into its October release of the Sqribe Enterprise reporting suite.
XML is a broader subset of markup language than HTML. Primary interest in the technology has come from the Internet community, where XML’s ability to transmit data, along with its associated metadata in the form of Document Type Definitions (DTDs), make it much more flexible than HTML.
The richer viewing environment allowed by XML is important for enterprise reporting vendors, which have been moving from proprietary Windows viewing environments to standard Web browsers. But the same XML attributes have generated interest on the data management and middleware ends of the spectrum.
"XML can support program-to-program communication as well as program-to-user communication," wrote analyst Mitchell Kramer, of the Patricia Seybold Group (www.psgroup.com), in a recent report on Actuate’s announcement. "As such, XML can become a middleware standard and the mechanism used to create a new class of distributed applications. It can be used to pass self-describing documents between applications, much in the way that current messaging middleware works today."
Through the XML standard for data exchange, enterprise reporting vendors can move their products into a more central role in the enterprise than the tools already occupy. On top of processing and distributing reports readable by end users, the n-tier systems could use XML to send machine-readable reports to other applications along the supply chain.
Actuate officials say the next version of the company’s reporting product will generate its reports both in an XML display format, readable by any XML-capable viewing application, and an XML data format. "What the data format enables us to do is provide a machine-readable XML stream of data to other Web applications," says Helena Winkler, director of marketing communications for Actuate. Vendors could export such data as catalog content and invoices with their customers’ applications via the XML data format, Winkler says.
Sqribe Enterprise employed XML as the standard for data transport among Sqribe’s own components. The infrastructure work will make it easier for Sqribe to exchange data via XML when operational applications and business-intelligence applications from other vendors reach that stage.
"For example, our customers could generate XML streams from their airline reservation system to drive analysis of flight reservations, classes, fares and routes using our PowerSQRIBE component [a visual query and analysis tool in the suite]," says John Schroeder, the company’s senior vice president of research and development.
In the second quarter of this year, Sqribe plans to offer the capability to go through PeopleSoft and SAP APIs to generate XML streams that can be read by Sqribe products. Sometime later this year, Sqribe also plans to offer XML as a report output for end-user viewing.
Enterprise reporting vendor Seagate Software (www.seagatesoftware.com) did not include XML support in its recent Crystal Reports 7 release and has no definitive XML roadmap to discuss publicly. Nonetheless, Seagate sees XML as a viable direction for Crystal Reports and may include XML support in the next version when XML standards are more established, a spokeswoman says.
To date, only a small percentage of applications and installed browsers are XML-capable, and various industry groups are trying to agree on DTDs. XML solutions still face several hurdles, states a recent online newsletter from the analyst firm Hurwitz Group (www.hurwitz.com). "Development tools that support XML are still scarce, security at the granular level is not yet present, and establishing DTDs as data models for specific industries will take time," the firm says.